Experience does count, says U.S. Senate candidate Cardin

May 17, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Despite what opponents Michael Steele and Josh Rales have said about their lack of experience at the congressional level being a plus, Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, disagrees.

In recent interviews, Rales, a Democratic businessman making his first run for public office and Steele, Maryland's Republican lieutenant governor, have both tried to make a virtue of the fact that they are congressional outsiders.

In town Tuesday to speak to a meeting of United Auto Workers' retirees, Cardin rejected the idea that experience will hinder rather than help the person who replaces U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.

"I think experience is important," Cardin said.

"If I want a house built, I go to someone with experience. If I have an illness, I want a doctor with experience," Cardin said.


His congressional service also gives the people a chance to look at what he's done and how he operates, Cardin said.

Cardin has represented Maryland 3rd district in Congress since 1987. Prior to that, he was a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly from 1967 to 1986, serving as House Speaker from 1979 to 1986.

"I am able to get things done in a sea of difficulty .. across party lines," he said, adding that, "I know how to sense opportunities."

Asked about his accomplishments, Cardin noted that as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, he helped balance the federal budget.

As a delegate in Maryland, he said he helped craft the state's health-care system. And on the federal level, Cardin said he had gotten Maryland's streams and rivers included in the Chesapeake Bay restoration program.

"I know how the system operates. I think that's an important thing for a U.S. senator," he said.

Asked about Steele's criticism that while serving in the General Assembly, he had put the teachers' pension system in the position of being one of the nation's worst, Cardin denied it.

"That's just false," he said.

Cardin said his role was to help craft a bill to allow people hired prior to 1979 to stay in the state's old system, where cost-of-living adjustments were more generous.

"I was not involved in the development of the post-1979 system," he said.

"I don't understand Michael Steele's involvement here. I thought it was primarily a legislative fix. Maybe I'm wrong," Cardin said with a shrug.

Asked about his priorities in the U.S. Senate, Cardin said he would work to reform financing of the U.S. health-care system, try to deal with the nation's energy needs and balance the national budget.

"Getting off of imported oil is doable. We can do a much better job of conservation," he said.

On health care, Cardin said he favors universal coverage.

"I think Massachusetts has given us a way out, Cardin said.

Under a new Massachusetts law, by July 1, 2007, every citizen will be required to purchase health insurance, just, as The Washington Post noted April 5, every driver must have car insurance.

Those without the means to purchase insurance on their own would get a subsidy to do so. But, as The Post reported, the plan is more complicated than a brief description suggests.

Cardin also said he would "take on the pharmaceutical industry" and try to put together a long-term-care system that doesn't depend on the Medicaid program.

Of the three candidates for Sarbanes' seat that I've interviewed so far, Cardin has by far the most impressive rsum in the area of finance and leadership. His vulnerability, which Rales and Steele have both seized upon, is that he is a member of a legislative body that hasn't managed to solve the issues Cardin says are important.

Are the voters ready to toss all the incumbents out and start over again? It's an appealing idea to many, but as commentators smarter than I have pointed out, electing those without experience effectively puts experienced staffers in charge, at least for a while.

In my view, Steele, Rales and other contenders will have to make the case that Cardin's lifetime of service is worth less than their fresh eyes on the issues.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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